By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The race is on, so to speak.
With yesterday’s launch party for the 2014 autoXLR8R companies, it will feel like a marathon over the next 13 weeks as the entrepreneurs prepare for the finish line – “Demo Day” on August 12.
Dan Marcum, autoXLR8R Executive Director who also leads the sponsoring Southern Middle Tennessee Entrepreneur Centers, described the immersive experience as equivalent to getting “an MBA in 13 weeks.”
About 50 people – program participants, venture investors, and automotive industry experts – attended yesterday’s festivities at the Northfield Workforce Development Center, the former administrative and training complex for Saturn Corporation. Like the moniker of the building’s namesake, this is a “different kind of car event.”
Marcum offered the participants some sage advice. “We can help you succeed or fail faster,” he said.
Now in its second year, autoXLR8R has garnered a good deal of national and international attention for its first-of-a-kind accelerator program focused on technologies for the automotive sector.
Two of this year’s participants – Dennis Wong and Nicholas Ng – are Chinese nationals with a start-up named Cyberloop. They literally arrived Monday morning at the Nashville International Airport.
Jack Sisk, autoXLR8R Program Director, told us they took a cab to Spring Hill – no small feat, but also an indication of their interest in and commitment to the program. The duo – one attends college in Canada, the other in Hong Kong – applied through the autoXLR8R website.
“We conducted several Skype interviews before selecting them,” Sisk said.
Their company joined six others for a day of presentations by others, orientation, and their first “speed dating round” with mentors. The companies were previously identified on teknovation.biz, but we learned much more on Monday.
The vast majority of the companies are connected to East Tennessee, many through technologies coming out of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) or the University of Tennessee (UT). That is no doubt at least partially due to the involvement of Technology 20/20 as the curriculum provider.
Two technologies from ORNL and one from UT are being pursued by student entrepreneurs, and a fourth company – Oak Ridge-based Clodico – is a participant.
We learned on Monday of two more with East Tennessee ties when we met Robert Watts of Advanced Measurement Systems, Inc., in Etowah, whose company is one of the participants, and also talked with Dave Johnson, a Knoxville-based businessman who is involved with the start-up described as “Hybrid Energy Generation.”
Monday’s kick-off also featured two panels – one with automotive industry leaders from Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee – discussing trends and opportunities. The second panel was focused on access to capital.
We will post stories in the not too distant future on the insights offered by the industry panel and also some first observations provided by the people pursing the seven start-ups during their “speed dating” round.